Saturday Science School
Southwark Community Educational Charity (SECEC) is a registered charity which operates three schemes of enrichment classes at Dulwich Foundation Schools for pupils at 12 participating Southwark state primary schools. See scec-uk.org.uk
The Dulwich College Science Scheme is for Year 6 pupils and aims to provide an enjoyable introduction to practical science and improved confidence before secondary school.
Sixty children attend two-hour sessions on Saturday mornings exploring, through practical experiments, some of the fundamentals of Biology, Chemistry and Physics.
The project aims to build on the work done by local primary schools by providing enrichment or extension classes for children in small groups, to improve learning and confidence before secondary transfer. It also allows pupils to experience some new ways of learning, for example by conducting their own scientific experiments in the College’s well-equipped science laboratories.
The project was started in 1992 by a local teacher and educationalist who perceived a need to provide extra tuition for pupils in local maintained sector primaries, who were often being taught in large groups. This teacher approached Dulwich College, who agreed to provide facilities and teaching resources for a scheme of small-group tuition on Saturday mornings. This scheme was soon used as a model for two other schemes at the other Dulwich Foundation schools (JAGS and Alleyn's). The schemes were placed on a surer footing by the creation of a separate registered charity, Southwark Community Education Council, under whose auspices the schemes are run.
The Dulwich Foundation schools provide classrooms and facilities, teaching materials, on-site supervision from a member of staff and organisational support to the schemes. They are also closely involved with the governance of the charity. In addition, Dulwich College provides the charity with considerable administrative support in setting up the schemes each year and the provision of payroll services.
The scheme held at the College on Saturday mornings introduces 60 children in Year 6 to practical laboratory science, with the aim of stimulating the pupils’ interest in science and boosting their confidence before their forthcoming move to secondary school. The classes are held in The Laboratory, the College’s fully equipped science facility, and pupils are introduced to some basic concepts of Biology, Chemistry and Physics and to the principles of the scientific method, over some 36 hours of free tuition during the year.
The College provides facilities, equipment, refreshments and a fully trained member of staff to oversee the scheme on Saturday mornings. The College further provides the SCEC with gratis legal support, around one day per week of administrative support and payroll services. During 2019-20, the governance of SCEC was strengthened by its becoming an Incorporated Charitable Organisation. The College provides two trustees, its Deputy Master External and Head of Junior School, to sit on the board of the Charity.
Feedback is sought from pupils, parents and the participants' schools to gauge the success of the scheme. A more formal assessment of the scheme is conducted by an external practitioner every two or three years and a written report is submitted to the charity's trustees.
In 2019-20, 38% of the children on the Saturday science scheme were in receipt of pupil premium at their primary schools. The scheme represents a valuable opportunity for these pupils to gain skills and confidence through enrichment opportunities that they might otherwise not be able to enjoy.
Despite the cancellation of two of the teaching sessions in 2019-20, the children, their parents and the participating primary schools were highly appreciative of the extra learning opportunities afforded to the pupils. Comments received included the following:
“It was such a pity that the last two classes and the presentation had to be cancelled but given the current situation we appreciate that the right decision was made.”
“We would like you to know that our grandson has really enjoyed all of the classes and only had to miss one through ill health. It was a joy for him to experience the excitement of the experiments in your modern laboratories and in your grounds. He now has a real love of science that we are sure will encourage him to work hard in his future studies at secondary school. Many thanks to you and the other the College staff for making it possible for him to enjoy this experience.”
Around 20 older students from Years 12-13 at Dulwich College act as mentors on the scheme, supporting individual pupils in the classroom, carrying out administrative tasks and supervision, and, importantly, acting as role models for the younger children.
The Saturday School sessions take place every year in the autumn and spring terms. They provide around 36 hours of free, small-group tuition over 20 weeks. It is intended to continue the schemes in future years and if possible seek to expand them.
The lockdown of activities due to Covid-19 curtailed the running of the scheme in March 2020, when the last two teaching sessions of the year had to be cancelled in order not to place pupils and staff at risk. The situation over Coronavirus was monitored carefully by The College and by the trustees of the Charity, SCEC, during the course of summer 2020, and the decision was taken in late August to postpone the start of the science scheme for the academic year 2020-21 until January 2021 at the earliest.